KFHA honors students who turned around their lives

By Richard Yager….

Turnaround success is shared by (l-r) Connor Whaley, Rebekah Pastana, Tamika Smith, Ksenija Cvetrova, Luisa Jerez and Jeremey Pasquet.

Out of an estimated 35,000 students in the Kendall area, 32 earned special honors from the Kendall Federation of Homeowner Associations (KFHA). They were nominated by their schools to become members of the “Class of 2011” at KFHA’s annual “Operation Turnaround” luncheon on May 18.

Operation Turnaround is a program that uniquely rewards individual Kendall students who overcome hardships to achieve academic and personal excellence during the school year.

“You have set yourself apart to change your own life for the better, and in the future, for those of your community,” said Turnaound chair Jane Walker.

“We often make the mistake of assessing students by transcripts and GPAs,” she added. “For every Operation Turnaround student, there is an exceptional background story, and this year some very competitive colleges will know about these exceptional students.”

Five graduating seniors who received $1,000 Miami Dade College scholarships and special awards to assist their future education included Ksenija Cvetrova, Braddock High; Luisa Jerez, Killian High; Jeremey Pasquet, Sunset High; Rebekah Pastana, Ferguson High, and Connor Whaley, Coral Reef High.

They were joined by eight students in grades 6-8: Josue Alas, Frank Martin K-8 Center; Amanda M. Baez, Howard McMillan Middle; Jose Fuentes, Winston Park K-8 Center; Sebastian Gomez, Devon Aire K-8 Center; Brandon Lana, Hammocks Middle; Adrian Pita, Howard Doolin Middle; Nadine Venelus, Kenwood K-8 Center, and Eric Zambrana, Curry Middle.

Nineteen in kindergarden through grade 5 were additionally honored. They are: Gabriela Centeno, Bowman Ashe; Andreas Balmaceda, Calusa; Paola Cabello, Claude Pepper; Melany Zuniga, Cypress; Angie Ugaz, Devon Aire; Noah Butler and Jeremy Shanower, Dr. Manuel Barreiro; Emily Delemos-Gomez, Ethel Beckham; Robert Marsicano, Frank Martin; Andres Hernandez, Gloria Floyd; Dorian Nunez, Jane Roberts; David Fernandez and Christopher Tellez, Kendale Lakes; Myles Baez, Kenwood; Taimary Rodriguez, Norma Bossard; Carlos Veintemilla, Oliver Hoover; Felix Maldonado, Sunset Park; Ivanna Casanova, William Lehman, and Kenneth Schmid, Winston Park.

“Never let any circumstance steal your dream,” was the advice of Tamika Smith, a South Miami High graduate who was mentored by Walker nearly a decade ago. Smith, 26, now a Maryland news website editor, graduated from Howard University after winning a scholarship “to pursue my own dream.”

Among others honoring the students was emcee Gio Benitez, now a Channel 4 reporter, who recalled that he and Tamika once covered an assignment together as Miami-Dade middle school students, 13 years ago.

Also honored by a scholarship in their name was Miles Moss, former KFHA president, who acknowledged the program’s initiator, the late Dorothy Cissel, as inspiring the program’s 29- year tradition to recognize deserving students.

Lee Zimmerman, successor to Moss as president in 2011, announced a new scholarship in the names of Moss and his wife, Lina, Winston Park residents who have combined to direct and manage the organization affairs for 15 years.

Among many contributors to the program were Miami-Dade Firefighters Local 1403 which hosted the program with a barbecue hamburger and chicken lunch at its Doral headquarters, 8000 NW 21 St.

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